One of several BBC Inspire Workshops around the country was held at the BBC Maida Vale studios on February 13th 2010. This was the first lab of its kind that I had attended, and so I was not entirely sure what to expect.

The group came to around 30 ‘young composers’ between the ages of 11 and 18, and 8 adults who worked for the BBC in one way or another, either running the studios, in charge of the workshop, or members of the BBC Orchestra.

The day began at the relaxed hour of 10.30, at which time we were directed from the canteen to one of the studios. We began, as so often is done when meeting group of new people, by sitting in a large circle and going around saying our names, followed variously by the instruments we play, the types of music we enjoy listening to and which styles we like to compose in. After this came a most unusual icebreaker, in the form of a Greek clapping rhythm nine beats long; once we had got to grips with doing this in unison we split up into three groups and attempted to clap the rhythm as a round (the success of which was much to everyone’s delight!)

We were then given food for thought for the day, as a group of four BBC musicians and one of the ‘young composers’ performed one of Stravinsky’s pieces intended for string quintet. Although in this case it consisted of a violin, cello, clarinet, marimba and trumpet, Stravinsky’s aim was to change how people perceived music and typical instrumental arrangements – thus this became an even more apt demonstration of the concept!

The music comprised of an ostinato, a drone, a melody, a rhythm and an interruption, and we were given these as the basis parts for a piece of music we were to compose and perform in groups of six. Much excitement ensued as we split off into our groups, rushed to gather one of the many instruments we had access to and located an empty studio (we had full access to all of the studios in the building, and it was fascinating to see where much of the recording for the BBC took place – something I never thought I’d be able to do).

After this we had a short break, and returned to the studio where we learnt about the properties of the different instruments: the tone qualities of the different strings of the violin, the use of harmonics on the cello, and glissandi on the clarinet. This was accompanied by brief demonstrations and short pieces played by each of the musicians, including a fantastic rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue”, which has long been one of my favourite pieces for clarinet.

It was at this point that we had an hour long pause for lunch, and discussed with slight concern the daunting task ahead of us: to compose a piece of music for two or more of the BBC musicians to play. Although the majority of us had composed quite a bit before, there were one or two who had never notated music. However this was not a problem as the adults were all eager to help, and, using the information we had gathered during the day, produced some impressive results! Not only did we enjoy listening to our own and the other ‘young composers’ compositions, but it seemed like as much enjoyment was gained by the musicians playing them!

I think that this workshop would be enjoyable to anyone, regardless of skill level; one could come along as a regular composer looking for new stimulation, or with an idea that you want to pursue, or simply as someone who is eager to learn more about the way music works. The day was a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people of a similar age, and was both inspiring and well conceived. It is definitely something I plan on doing again, and I highly recommend it to anybody looking to start making music of their own!

Thea Waxman, age 16